What does a Yogi look like?

We have a problem in the yoga community.

We say that yoga is for every body.

But we don’t show it.

In my yoga training, we took a few hours to look through yoga magazines, seeing all the thin, white, beautiful, able bodied women on every yoga magazine cover.

But now it isn’t just magazines. You only have to search #yogaeverydamnday on Instagram to be flooded with images of mostly thin, mostly white, women doing handstands on surfboards.

I don’t mean to shame anyone who fits that description.  It’s amazing that these women are making health and wellness a priority, no matter what they look like. Or no matter what socioeconomic groups they’re a part of.

The problem is that, when yoga looks like it’s exclusively for one group, we exclude people who could really benefit from a yoga practice. People of different ages, different ethnicities, different genders, and different physical abilities might lose out on some of the amazing benefits of yoga if we don’t start being more inclusive in the way we show who a yogi is.

I’ve had countless people tell me they can’t do yoga because they’re not flexible enough, or not in good enough shape, or think that yoga is only for women.

It saddens me that these misconceptions are so broadly held. Physically, yoga can help you become more flexible and build your strength. But yoga is about so much more than the physical practice. Yoga is about learning to breathe properly, practicing mindfulness, and nourishing your body, mind, and soul. It can help you better manage illness, stress, and tough life circumstances.

We are doing the entire community a disservice by only showing the ‘perfect’ yogi. The one that’s healthy. The one that’s thin. The one that’s uber strong and flexible.

So I’m going to let you in on a little secret…

I can’t touch my toes.

Not without bending my knees…

Not without my legs shaking…

But I still do yoga.

My heels don’t touch the ground in downward dog...

But I still do yoga.

I can’t do a headstand...

I can’t do a handstand...

And when I do an inversion and my top slides over my head it reveals a nice jiggly belly...

But I still do yoga.

When I first started practicing yoga, I could barely walk to the shop.

But there I was, getting down on my mat, still doing yoga.

I’ve gone to classes with a box of kleenex because my allergies were so bad

But I still practiced yoga.

I’ve practiced in new leggings and a tank top from Lululemon.

I’ve practiced in baggy sweatpants and an old t-shirt.

And the practice was just the same.

I know there are more diverse yogi’s out there. Of different sizes,  colours,  ages,  and abilities.

So let’s start bringing them into the spotlight to make yoga more accessible.

We’re moving in the right direction. There are some publications that are working to make yoga more accessible to everybody.

But as a community, we can still do more. Let’s challenge ourselves to truly represent ‘what a yogi is’ both in big publications, but also on our Instagram and Facebook feeds, in the blog photos we publish and the newsletters we send out.

We can do better as a community.

We can let people know you don’t need to be flexible to do yoga. You don’t need fancy yoga clothes. You just need to get down on the mat and breathe.

"True yoga is not about the shape of your body,
but the shape of your life.
Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived.
Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been;
yoga cares about the person you are becoming.
Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose,
and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied."

~Aadil Palkhivala, Fire of Love

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5 Responses

  1. I really appreciate this! I wrote a piece with some shared critique a little while ago: https://chronicyogiblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/13/whose-bodies-are-all-bodies-accessibility-and-yoga-communities/ I would love to talk about potential for some collaboration, if you're interested.
    • Thanks for sharing the post! I love your blog! Send me an email at info@arogayoga.com if you'd like to collaborate on something!
      • Oh wow! I never saw this in the summer and just came across it while I was rereading your article. Thanks for your response. I'll finally email now. :)
  2. Thank you for this! I'm with you!

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